Please read: my challenge to kindergarten and first grade teachers

Dear Teachers
(and those who support teachers, please listen in),

I will buy your class $100 worth of books, and donate whatever anyone else pledges below (more on that in a bit), if you successfully execute the following. (I can do this for only one teacher. But if more people pledge money for other teachers to use the program, then…)

(a) Set up your classroom so that you can spend about 25 minutes per day showing presentations and then a class quiz. The quiz (done by the class as a whole) should usually be over the day’s words, but occasionally it should be a “big” quiz, over the previous five days’ words.

(b) Do this every day for 16 weeks (I’ll forgive a few days off), or if you want to show Reading Bear for less time, until your class has finished going through the material and most students can get 13/15 on the last quiz on the page, over all the words. (Note, the last is required only if you stop short of 16 weeks.) Make sure you are logged in as you show this to your class. A schedule would go something like this:

Week 1: “short a” (3 days); begin “short e” (2 days)
Week 2: finish “short e” (1 day); “short i” (2 days); “short o” (1 day)
Week 3: “short o” (1 day); and “short u” (2 days); two reviews and big quizzes
Week 4: another review and big quiz; “c and k”; “ck” (both 2 days)
Week 5: blends 1 and blends 2 (1 day each); adding s (2 days); review and big quiz
Week 6: now you switch to 1 presentation per day; “digraphs and x” to “two syllables”
Week 7: review and big quiz; then “long e” through “or”
Week 8: “er, ur, ir”; review and big quiz; then “oy, oi” through “aw, au, al”
Week 9: “ai” and “ay, air”; review and big quiz; “y, ie, ind, ild” and “o, oa, oe”
Week 10: “old, olt, ow” to “2 & 3 syllables”; review and big quiz; “a_e and “e_e”
Week 11: “i_e” to “ing”; review and big quiz
Week 12: “y and more” to “ge, dge, etc.”
Week 13: review and big quiz; “the, se, etc.” to “ph, gh”
Week 14: “ea and ear”; review and big quiz; “ie, ui, u” to “si, su, ci, ti, tu”
Week 15:  “ive, or, ence” and “3 & 4 syllables”; then review and big quiz

Note: it doesn’t matter if you spend more time on the early stages, and you only get halfway through the presentations in 16 weeks, as long as you look at at an entire presentation, or an entire review, every day. And also note: I don’t care if your students can’t pass many of the quizzes by the end of that time, as long as you stick with the program for 16 full weeks. I think they will be able to, but we’ll see, now won’t we?

(c) You may show the screen to your whole class at once or, if you have the computers, you can have the students look at the presentations individually (which is actually better, but not required).

(d) Send the kids home with the URL and the instructions to review the lesson at home each day, preferably (but not necessarily) until they get at least a 13/15 on the quiz.

(e) You have to agree to answer some questions from me, honestly and accurately, about how you used the program and how well your students are reading at the end of it.

So here’s the deal: I really believe in phonics. In particular, I believe in the Rudolf Flesch method, which I used with both of my boys, who learned to read using this method when they were 1 year old. (My 2-year-old is now decoding at a third grade level, according to this–I’m not kidding.) And in even more particular, I believe in the Reading Bear program. I think we need some evidence that 21st century tools, like Reading Bear, can be used to quickly and easily teach kids how to read. (By “read” I mean to decode text, of course–the hardest part of starting to read–although Reading Bear teaches an awful lot of vocabulary.) I think kids can learn phonics quickly and easily using the right tools. I think that there is no reason why our poor first graders should be made to suffer through those awful, boring basal readers for three or four years. Ugh! They should be reading easy, grade-appropriate, transitional chapter books like My Father’s Dragon and The Magic Tree House. So, teachers, won’t you take a half hour out of your school day next year and help me (a) teach your kids to read, and (b) prove that your typical school kids can be taught to read in four months using Reading Bear? I really think they can be.

I doubt $100 in books is enough to motivate anybody who is not already motivated. But it is a way to get your attention, to commit publicly to a program, etc. And besides…others might kick in more. Maybe we’ll make the prize “stone soup”…

Note for non-teachers: do want to support this effort? Pledge, in the comments below, money for teachers. $100 would be nice. More would be awesome. It’s all unorganized by any organization at this time. I will personally provide an escrow service (you’ll have to trust me!). I’m just doing this because I have something to prove personally…I don’t own the website (the Community Foundation does) and I don’t even operate it, I’ve moved on to full time. I just want to prove that Reading Bear works. The real winners will be the kids, who learn to read quickly and painlessly (Reading Bear is fun!).

Available money will be split up as follows: $100 per teacher who successfully completes the program, based on the teachers who sign up first below and the available money. If there is more than $100 per teacher available, then all available money will be divided equally among all teachers who finish. To prove their bona fides I must be given the teacher’s Reading Bear login ID. My interpretation of this policy will be final!






Please do dive in (politely). I want your reactions!

7 responses to “Please read: my challenge to kindergarten and first grade teachers”

  1. Melody

    I know this is for teachers but I just want you to know that I am going to start this schedule with my Two year old. Thanks for listing what to do on different days. We did little reader and star fall without ANY success. Hopefully reading bear can help us break thru to “reading”. Thanks again and good luck to the teacher who gets the $100 in books!!

    1. Melody, thanks for letting me know. (Sorry it took so long to approve this comment.) Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  2. Thanks for posting the schedule. My kiddo is doing CVC words pretty solidly right now. I’d been wondering how to push ahead on phonics without stressing him out. ReadingBear might be just the thing!

    Possibly dumb question: Which “mode” do you recommend watching? There are so many choices and I never know which one is “best.”

  3. I just found and find it too be chock full of resources.

    I, too, am a MAJOR fan of promoting decoding. It is the way I learned. It worked. It is the way I teach my kids as well as others I may tutor. It still works.

    I promote decoding on my own website and I am heartbroken when I see children struggle to read because they have been taught with a whole word method. There seems to be no enjoyment–just endless struggles. (Others may have different experiences but this has been my personal experience.)

    I have crafted my own tools to aid my children(which I homeschool)and I have been quite pleased, however, I am going to check out the Rudolf Flesch method you spoke of and see if I can fine tune my technique.

    Thanks so much.

    Again, is delightful. I liked it on my Facebook page and I fully intend to share it with the visitors to my website.

    Best Regards,


  4. Tom

    I have a 4 week old and look forward to using reading bear! Have you considered trying to partner with If Reading Bear was on there it would have much greater reach and the implicit support of Khan’s brand.

    1. Excellent, thanks!

      Khan Academy is OK. I offered Khan a job back when he was barely known. 😉

      Seriously, it’s not a bad idea, but I don’t own Reading Bear (Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi and Charles Boone do) and I’m not sure they’d be crazy about the idea.

      But you know what, I’ll pass it along.

      Also, try out Reading Bear on your little guy when he’s three months old. If no interest, try again at six months, nine months, etc.

  5. Velvetpage

    I haven’t used Reading Bear with my primary students, but I’ve used phonics programs that are laid out in a similar fashion and achieved similar results on a similar timeline. Phonics programs work to teach decoding; the studies are showing that phonemic awareness is the single largest determining factor of decoding skill, and anything that is done to encourage phonemic awareness is likely to help kids learn to read.

    It should be pointed out that this kind of program is not an entire literacy program for grade one. It’s one part of it. At the same time, students need to engage with text, make connections, learn what an inference is an how they already do it, and ask questions about text. They should also be learning to write at the same time they’re learning to read; the act of forming the letters helps cement the phonemic knowledge in their heads.

    I’d be happy to take your challenge next year if I find myself teaching grade one; unfortunately I think I’ll be teaching grade two.

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